Those of you who know me personally know there aren’t many foods I don’t eat. I’ll seriously try just about anything once. There are a palmful (less than an handful) of cuisines I don’t enjoy, and Indian food would be at the top of that list. Now, I probably should’ve prefaced this by saying that my first experience with Indian food was not a good one. It just put bad taste in my mouth for the cuisine (literally), but that was years ago, and I’ve developed quite the sophisticated palate over the years. When my friends invited me to join them for lunch at Rasika West End (located at 1190 New Hampshire Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20037), I jumped at the opportunity to revisit Indian food.
If you’re going to try Indian food for the first time, lunch at Rasika is a good place to start. If you ask the average professional in D.C. for a recommendation of good quality Indian food, 90 percent of them would recommend Rasika. During restaurant week (coming August 17–23, 2015), it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation there. They’ve received a lot of accolades, including Chef Vikram Sunderam’s 2014 James Beard award for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region. Because I was revisiting the cuisine, I stayed up the previous night to scour their menu and read reviews on Yelp. It was a bit overwhelming because they offer so much. Luckily, I was dining with friends who had previously visited the restaurant, so that made ordering a bit less overwhelming. Before I delve into the dining experience, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to dish on the decor.
Rasika begins to stimulate your senses from the moment you walk in the door. While praised for their cuisine, the atmosphere they’ve set in the dining room only compliments the culinary experience. They are renown for their extensive wine cellar, and they take advantage of their extensive collection, displaying a wall of bottles in the breezeway that connects the bar area to the dining room. While we were seated at a regular table with a banquette and chairs, I immediately fell in love with their semi-private booths. If you’re looking to impress a date or want to celebrate something special with someone special, making a request for one of these booths when you make a reservation would be a good idea. They also have a library just above the main dining room. With the backdrop of a hearty collection of books, this area is available for private events and seats up to 50 people. While I didn’t get a chance to view it on my visit, Rasika also has a Chef’s table that can accommodate up to 12 guests. According to their website, President Obama celebrated his 52nd birthday in this private dining corridor. Now, on to the main attraction—the food!
We began our culinary journey by sharing a few starters. Rasika is known for its Palak Chaat ($10), which is flash-fried, crispy spinach topped with yogurt, tamarind, and dates. Point blank period—it’s the tastiest spinach I’ve ever eaten! The texture is similar to seaweed, but it’s lighter and much more pleasing to the palate. The Tuna Chutneywala ($14) was a soft, buttery tower of ahi tuna, coconut, cilantro, and kachumber. I’ve never had tuna so fresh and delicious. After reviewing the menu and various Yelp reviews, I knew I wanted to try the Mango Shrimp ($12), and I am glad I did. The succulent shrimp, basted with fresh mango puree and grilled to perfection, were paired with flavors of cashews, ginger, and coriander. We rounded out our appetizers with a Bread Basket ($8) that included traditional naan, onion sage naan, and a green-hued mint paratha. We all ordered iced tea, which was a pleasant surprise. The fruity, floral flavor of the tea complimented all of the food we ordered well.
We continued our exploration of the East with the selection of our main courses. Because lamb is such a commonly cooked meat in Indian cuisine, I knew I wanted to try an entree featuring lamb. I wasn’t quite adventurous enough to try something heavy-laden with sauce, so I opted for the Tandoori Lamb Chops (available in servings of one, two, or three chops for $12, $24, or $36). They were so tender and practically melted in my mouth, and highlighted the flavors of mace, cardamom, cashews, and ginger. Served with a delicious mint sauce, I savored every bite of the the tender chops. One of my friends ordered the Red Snapper Mappas ($20), which was covered in a flavor-packed sauce with coconut milk, fennel, and malt vinegar and served over a bed of rice vermicelli. I would definitely order this dish again on another visit. A lot of times, fish portions in restaurants are small and not fulfilling, but the red snapper was a healthy serving of tender fish that essentially covered the entire plate. My other friend ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala ($17), which Rasika noted as the official dish of England on their menu. Served with a side of basmati rice, the tender chicken is covered in a bright orange sauce that packs lots of punch.
Because we were in full-blown “treat yo’self” mode at this point, we ordered dessert. Now, I usually always go for the chocolate item on the dessert menu, but after thoroughly enjoying the Mango Shrimp, I opted for a mango-flavored dessert. I tried the Rose-Mango Kulfi ($9), which featured a mango macaroon, layers of mango- and rose essence-flavored ice cream, and blackberries. I never would’ve imagined to pair these flavors, but altogether, they complimented each other well. The visual effect of the layers, once I enjoyed my first bite, was beautiful, as well. My friends shared the Chocolate Samosas ($9), which Rasika served with mocha ice cream ($9). Placed atop a schmear of berry coulis, the samosas were light and crispy. I don’t know how you feel about Phyllo dough, but I think it makes everything taste better. Whether wrapping something savory or sweet, the light crispiness of the unleavened dough just does something to me!
Our indulgent meal was a bit more expensive than I am used to spending for lunch. I often recommend people try new restaurants at lunch, rather than dinner, to enjoy the culinary experience without breaking the bank. We spent close to $150 for three people at lunch (yikes!), which is definitely outside of my regular budget I’d be comfortable spending on a lunch. But don’t fret. Rasika does offer a Pre-Theatre menu that is only $35 and available for dinner until 6:30 p.m. You have a limited choice of starters, entrees, and dessert, but it’s a great option to explore their menu at a more reasonable price point. And again, if you can manage to book a reservation during restaurant week, you can again explore their offerings for $22 at lunch or $35 at dinner.
Until next time, folks. Keep dishing!